Kinkel election message provokes party anger

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The Independent Online
The first British-German dispute of 1997 broke out yesterday even before the new year had rung out the old. The German foreign minister Klaus Kinkel came under fire from politicians of all major parties after he indicated that Germany would prefer pro-Europeans to win the general election.

Mr Kinkel said: "A general election will be held in Britain no later than May. The country must create clarity about its European policy ... Britain is part of Europe. Europe needs Britain."

Chancellor Helmut Kohl's centre-right coalition has never concealed its desire that Britain play a more positive role in the European Union. However, Mr Kinkel's statement, which appeared as part of a new year's message summarising key issues for German foreign policy in 1997, was unusually blunt for a minister to make publicly about another country, especially a close ally.

Pro-Europeans said they feared that the statement might play into the hands of Euro-sceptics, who are keen to portray continental Europeans as bullies and busybodies issuing instructions to Britain. Even Paddy Ashdown, the unambiguously pro-European Liberal Democrat leader, criticised Mr Kinkel, saying his remarks were "unhelpful and almost certainly unwise".

The German foreign ministry denied the statement represented interference in British politics and said that it had been intended as an expression of goodwill. "In a European Union which aspires to become a political union, interference in [another country's] internal affairs is by definition hardly possible. But even if it were possible, it is certainly not intended," a spokesman said. "Britain must become clear on what depth of integration it wants to reach and, as Mr Kinkel said, we want Britain to be among those countries which, together with others, achieve as deep an integration as possible."

Conservative Party chairman Brian Mawhinney seized on Mr Kinkel's remarks as evidence that Britain's EU partners wanted a Labour victory rather than the re-election of a Tory government, which he said would "defend British interests". And he accused Labour leader Tony Blair of having "already said that ultimately he will do what the other European leaders tell him".

Labour ridiculed the assertion but said Mr Kinkel should not have made his comments. Alistair Darling, Labour's Treasury spokesman, said: "It is up to the British people to choose their next government. Klaus Kinkel's comments are a kind of desperate message from Europe that there is a British case to be put, and that British case is not being put just now because the Conservatives have weak leadership."